How to Choose: Live Chat vs Chatbots for Your Business

live chat vs chatbot

In an ideal world, a business would operate both a chatbot and have live operators, always on hand to help customers. In many scenarios, however, that isn’t possible, so how should you plan your business contact, customer care and other communication strategies in the age of the chatbot?

Being left on hold, long wait times, no one picking up, no idea if your email got there? There are millions of these scenarios played out daily across the business and service world, which is part of the reason behind the push to chatbot adoption to improve the customer experience. This isn’t about robots taking jobs or the impersonal nature of automated response, but the best way to provide help and support, and to help grow the company as part of a digital business strategy, while keeping customers engaged and happy.

All of that makes for big business, with market research firm Tractica expecting chatbot and AI software revenue to increase from around $9.5 billion in 2018 to around $118.6 billion by 2025, with huge savings to end-user businesses and time savings to customers.

Around 90% of businesses report faster complaint resolution through the use of bots, with 57% showing large ROI for minimal effort in business terms. That isn’t to say building a good bot is easier, but it is certainly faster and more cost-effective than developing traditional contact and live chat for a company.

The evolution of the Voice of the business

Within any business, the roles of customer service and other touchpoints have evolved over time, from pen and paper to the phone, the fax machine, to dedicated workers, then to local call center staff, then a global market of agents willing and eager to take customer calls, and follow the appropriate script.

The message or response has also changed, from those with the time to provide help in an ad hoc fashion, to dedicated team members tasked with providing help and support based on company knowledge or personal experience. The rise of the script has helped given basics levels of support, across banks and utilities a bad name, but any company can build a positive brand around offering a good or great experience using the same tools.

To improve the customer experience, chatbots help boost response times to instant, to solve problems, from the simple to the increasingly complex and helping improve conversions through sales, upselling and retention.

Today’s startups and growing businesses have the luxury of avoiding much of this hassle, they can develop a FAQ page or chatbot for day-one launch, saving costs on staff and outsourced support that can be invested in products or services. So much so that Gartner estimates 25% of businesses will have integrated chatbot support in their engagement channels by 2020, shooting up from just 2% from early 2018.

As with any technology, there was plenty of interest, and then plenty of negativity as early bots failed to deliver on the initial hype. But now, through AI learning to provide a better service, patients, consumers, company’s own workers using bots for internal purposes and other clients are increasingly happy with the chatbot experience thanks to the speed and ability to resolve issues. Statistics show growing acceptance and satisfaction, and the numbers continue to rise as we approach 2020.

But to get this far, companies have had to learn the hard way through chatbot development, either through personal experience or learning from the lessons of others, often made painfully public. There remain advantages and disadvantages to chatbots, which have also been highlighted over their evolution.

Advantages and disadvantages of chatbots vs live chat

Chatbots are already well known for their ability to hold huge amounts of conversations at once, thanks to the limitless power of the cloud. And their ability to operate 24/7, in multiple languages makes them the darling of global business, but even a small company, where the owners don’t have to time to answer calls or handle a growing rise in emails or other contacts can benefit.

The primary weakness of most chatbots is they start at the beginning of the conversation every time. Advanced versions can remember previous conversations and pick up where the user left off, or remind them of the recent topic of conversation, but most start with zero knowledge.

Getting to the right place in the chat fast is vital for maintaining customer interest and engagement. Whereas an agent on a live chat with a pushy customer will know exactly what they need through their opening statement, the bot might take a few queries to reach a similar point. A chatbot that can ask a customer what they want initially and understand the response will improve responses and efficiency.

Live agents have plenty of issues too, a live chat has to be accepted by an agent and at busy times will be just as slow to respond as traditional methods. They can be just as restricted as a chatbot to a script and can also be tired, upset or off the ball for a number of reasons that could impact their performance (unlike a chatbot, which is always on message).

Another advantage of a chat with a live agent is they can process and discriminate better than a bot when it comes to colloquialisms, sensing stress in a customer’s messages or instantly progressing something that is clearly important. AI bots are getting better at understanding these nuances but, for now, chatbots have to be built up with the flexibility to respond in ways that do not antagonise or distress the user.

There is an important consideration too, when it comes to sensitive topics or information. Many issues are better dealt with anonymously, perhaps medical topics where a person finds it easier to give details to a chatbot. Or where there is a risk of – for example – financial information being taken by a human operator. Chatbots in these areas cut down on fraud.

Where the chatbot comes into its own

Beyond the basics of support and providing information, chatbots are getting better in other areas that more directly benefit the business. In digital marketing, customers engage the chatbot and are part of a conversation. That can be used to inform them of new products or services, highlighting new features in a service. Or, it is easy for the bot to mention something in context the client might want. That could be from upgrading a basic car service to a superior package, reminding them about consumables for a printer or other device.

The chatbot can either complete the transaction through links to the sales features via smartphone or website, or pass the conversion onto the sales team to complete more complex orders or transactions, such as in real estate, boosting the volume of traffic to that department.

While people may still prefer live chat, the distinction between the live chat agent or human agent and the chatbot is shrinking all the time. Soon it will be easy for any business to launch a chatbot that has personality, the smarts to hold a wide-ranging conversation, and use voice or video avatars to make the chat available on any device or in any circumstance.

These chatbot interactions are exploding in volume, increasing their cost efficiency, saving the business more time and revenue that would be spent on call centers or staff, all its takes is for a company leader or boss to see that value at first hand. That might be through an airline chatbot, that now dominate conversations in that market through apps and website bot, or through the growing number of marketing bots. 

Recent Salesforce data shows that some 53% of service organizations expect to use chatbots within 18 months, a 136% growth rate that foreshadows a big role for the technology in the near future. While 64% of agents with AI chatbots are able to spend most of their time solving complex problems, versus 50% of agents without AI chatbots.

Build your own bots

Bots come in many forms, pre-packaged, custom-built by external developers, build-your-own or as part of a broader IT services package. Contact Center businesses are adding chatbot features to their suites of products to provide a rounded offering and most AI vendors offer their chatbot tools for businesses to build on.

For the maximum degree of flexibility, to deliver maximum benefit to the chatbot and to get the best value from live agents, a business can craft, operate and analyse their own chatbots, built using services like SnatchBot or other creation tools and services. They make use of AI, NLP and other advanced tools to create custom fit-for-specific-needs and can be evolved over time to meet the company’s needs and growth.

The benefits include no more relying on out-of-house developers who might not have the responsiveness you need, On the flip side, your company will need someone who can understand the chatbot process, how to edit and add new chat options, and how to analyse the data. Yet, even a small startup should have one person with the technical knowledge to build a simple or more advanced bot, learning from established best practices.

Ultimately, growing numbers of businesses are adopting chatbot on a daily basis. The interest in chatbots grows as live chat declines, varying by country and region, with digital native businesses already high on the adoption curve and older businesses catching up fast.

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